The Vinson Papers — Part 4

[By Rob Roehm; originally posted July 10, 2011 at the REH Two-Gun Raconteur blog. This version updated and expanded.]

Part 3

From the Brownwood Bulletin for July 18, 1928.

As mentioned in the last installment, the impact of Klatt’s death appears to have subsided by July 1928. Late that month, Vinson traveled to Waco to visit Juntites Harold Preece and Hildon V. Collins. Preece described the visit to Clyde Smith in a July 26 letter:

I wish you could have been with Truett, Hildon, and myself, the early part of the week. We had a prolonged and interesting session, and nothing was too sacred for the gamut of conversation. Truett also made a very definite impression on Hildon’s girl cousin. Young Lochinvar again come out of the west.

Later that summer, Vinson wrote to his friend in Cross Plains; this is one of only two (I think) letters from Vinson to Howard that survive (envelope at head of post). Again, the letter reveals a wide range of interests, moving from talk of friends and visiting to things he has read and movies he has seen (“Vic McLaglen was disappointing in Hangman’s House, but there was nothing much to the picture”). There is some talk of a Howard poem “on the treatment of whores” which Vinson proclaims “is a dandy.” He also makes it clear that “Hildon’s girl cousin” made an equal impression:

I fear that I am “putting up” with Collins just because I want to remain in the good graces of his cousin!

Late that summer Vinson had a poem accepted by New Masses (he’ll have more to say about this magazine later). The piece appeared in the October 1928 issue.

Meanwhile, one of Vinson’s articles was causing a stir in the pages of The Junto. Probably published in the August 1928 issue, now lost, “Hell Bent” received a longish comment which was published in the October 1928 issue. Under the header “One of the ‘Hell Bent’ Speaks,” we get a taste of what Vinson’s piece contained:

I do not think of anything but drinking (and, my God, what stuff one does get nowadays), and of petting, and of acquiring siphilis [sic.]. I know this is true, for Truett Vinson said so. He is right. That is what I do think of. But I am not a hypocrite about it. I enjoy such things, and I intend to do what I enjoy, for I will go to Hell, anyway.

Signed by “A.M.Y” (“A Modern Youth”), much discussion in the comments section followed, including this, by Vinson himself: “To whom it may concern: I prefer to deal with people who sign their names to their opinions. Will a.m.y. reveal himself or herself? T.V.”

Robert E. Howard mentions the “A.M.Y. business” in a circa October 1928 letter to Clyde Smith:

The reason I’m sending The Junto to you instead of Truett, I want you as a damned personal damned favor to me, see, to put as a comment a slam on this A.M.Y. business about Hell Bent or else a boost for Truett’s article.

Now, I’m full of Virginia Dare, but I know what I’m talking about, see. We three birds are the holy and most revered Original Three and we must stand up for each other.

I have a hunch this A.M.Y. business is about fourteen and smokes corn husk cigarettes out behind the stable and thinks he’s on the high road to Hell.

That November, Vinson spent some time with various friends, in Waco and in Cross Plains.

From the Brownwood Bulletin for November 13, 1928.
From the Cross Plains Review for November 23, 1928.

In the same letter quoted above, Howard mentions that “Booth [Mooney] wants some autobiographies,” and the December 1928 issue contains Vinson’s “The Autobiography of a Bookkeeper”:

Name—Truett Vinson. (Author of “Hell Bent!”, etc. etc.)
Born—September 26, 1905.
Died—Not yet.
Occupation—Bookkeeper—because of the “bread and cheese” I consume, which gives me strength to keep more books, that I may purchase more “bread and cheese,” which enables me—ah, ad infinitum!
Nationality—Irish, Welsh, German.
Religion—Baptist—because of heredity and environment, but I am outgrowing it. Really, I believe in the Golden Rule practiced in regard to sociology, economics, and morals. And I am NOT an atheist.
Politics—Socialist.
Clubs and Societies—Book-of-the-Month Club, Fellowship of Reconciliation, National Council for Prevention of War, Debs’ Memorial Radio Fund, League to Abolish Capital Punishment, Upton Sinclair Loan Fund, National Association Opposed to Blue Laws, Workers’ International Relief.
Reading—From Upton Sinclair, Bernard Shaw, and H. G. Wells to A. Conan Doyle.
Habits—Smoking, drinking.
Weaknesses—Women, Football, and Sherlock Holmes.
Sex Experience—Been kissed by at least three girls! “I’m a lady, by God!”

This issues also contains “The Galveston Affair,” by Bob Howard, which briefly describes the pair’s experience at Galveston’s International Pageant of Pulchritude and Bathing Girl Revue (mentioned in Part 3). After being trampled on by the crowd, Howard relates the following:

Truett swore with an energy that I could not muster on account of the heat. We glared at each other without optimism. We sat—and sat—and sat. Had we been merely waiting for some national hero to appear, we would have given it up and started a general slaughter as a diversion.

But we were there to see legs, and legs we were going to see if we sat there till Hell froze over and the Devil took sleigh rides on the ice.

In an article probably intended for The Junto, Clyde Smith’s “Gods in Arcady” (published in “So Far the Poet”), Smith describes a trip to his uncle’s ranch on the outskirts of Brownwood. Smith, Howard, and Vinson are present, and Clyde provides a few details that help flesh out Truett Vinson. When they arrive at the ranch, it is Truett who “lights the lamp”; the next morning, “[a] fire roars in the kitchen stove, due to Truett’s efforts”; and after taking a swim, Clyde hands Vinson his pants and he “turns around to put them on.”

Besides the above, the trio drink water from the cistern “as horses drink: with relish and noise”; they “go for a ramble in the woods”; and as they settle down for the night, “the conversation shifts to women.” Later, Truett reads to them from The Road to Buenos Aires. Written by French writer and investigative journalist Albert Londres and published in multiple languages in 1927, the book reports on the trafficking of French and Polish women to Buenos Aires, bound for prostitution. It is a vivid account of the trafficking, part factual reporting and part creative writing.

1928 ended with a visit from Harold Preece. Vinson sent him a post card (below) on December 27, saying “Come as soon as you can. We are expecting you. Advise us when you will arrive and someone will meet you.” In correspondence (and The Junto), these visits became known as “reunions” and were often threatened but rarely occurred.

Keeping in mind that Truett had a poem published in New Masses back in October 1928, his comments in the The Junto for January 1929 are interesting:

BOOKS AND THINGS
By Truett Vinson

They tell you poetry will not sell on the book markets, but Stephen Vincent Benet’s latest narrative poem, “John Brown’s Body”, contained in a large book of 377 pages, has been selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club as a first selection, and this assures a sale of practically 75,000 copies. Of course, the selection of this book by the judges of the Book-of-the-Month Club does not mean that the book is necessarily worthy of the perusal of 75,000 readers, but I think that they have not gone far wrong this time. The poem is something of an epic, covering the whole Civil War with one sweep. The critics contend that it is crude in places, and no doubt they are right, but as a whole the poem is virile and moving and stirring. It seems to me that the prelude is almost worth the rest of the book.

Behold! A magazine, supposed to be somewhat “respectable”, hints that Mayor Jimmie Walker of New York City is not exactly the executive and the darling that he is “cracked up” to be by our numerous popular newspapers and magazines. I quote from “The Film Spectator”, edited by one Welford Beaton, Hollywood, California, the issue of August 18th: “Everyone, so it seems, seems to agree that New York is the greatest ‘boob’ town on earth. Close contact with Jimmie Walker, whom it selected as its mayor, is the strongest proof that has yet been advanced in support of the charge.”

The new “New Masses” under the editorship of Michael Gold is a haven for those writers (and readers!) who are not smart (sic!) enough and cultured enough to find a place in the pages of our commercially dictated magazines. If you want to get to the real depth and truth of America, I advise you to regularly read “New Masses”. What a relief to pick up so virile and vital a magazine after turning the advertising pages of “Liberty” with its ancient caption at the head of the editorial page, that “patriotic” and imperialistic utterance of Stephen F. Decatur.

The same Michael Gold, editor of “New Masses”, finds himself as a character in Upton Sinclair’s new book, “Boston”. With nothing added to him and nothing subtracted from him. Just plain Michael Gold, in his younger days, of course. “Boston” was published last month, a mammoth two-volume book selling for five dollars. Sinclair tells the inside story of the Sacco-Vanzetti case and other “things” about Boston and America in general. I predict that it will make more firm and more certain his place which he now holds in American literature: A great writer, and one of the major prophets of America.

From the Cross Plains Review for January 25, 1929.

The April 24, 1929 Brownwood Bulletin has “Truett Vinson has returned from San Antonio, where he spent the week-end.” A few weeks later, the Cross Plains Review for May 10, 1929 tells us that “Clyde Smith and Truett Vinson of Brownwood spent week end with Robert Howard.”

Booth Mooney was the editor of The Junto until April or May of 1929, but after January 1929, none of his issues survive. Harold Preece’s sister, Lenore, revived the travelogue in June. The second of her issues, July 1929, has Vinson’s “An Open Letter to Texas’ Governor”:

1409 Second Street,
Brownwood, Texas.
June 9th, 1929.

Hon. Dan Moody,
Governor of Texas,
Austin, Texas.

My Dear Sir:

Aren’t you consulting only a small minority of Texas people when you take such a method of eradicating the dreaded “prize fight” from this state? Aren’t you consulting only those good brethren who exclaim loudly against Sunday movies, but whose children never enter church doors, instead parking their drunken cars on dark roadways?

You state that by encouraging prize fights we may bring a big championship bout to Texas, and that would be highly undesirable. But would it? The state needs something to make it alive! It is deader than Nevada!

As time passes, we have more censorships thrust upon us. In a few more years we’ll merely be automatons rushing to and from daily toil—nothing more. Now we can’t indulge in the sight of two physical giants battering each other, because it would bring an undesirable element among our already rotting youth. Instead I suppose we shall only be greeted by such manly contests as the recently invented yo-yo contest, in which the contestant sees how long he can dangle a silly little toy on a string, the meanwhile he is being fed milk through a straw!

Yours very sincerely,

Truett Vinson

That same month, another “reunion” between Howard, Vinson, Smith, and “Harold Creese” (obviously Preece) occurred:

From the Cross Plains Review for July 12, 1929.

The August 1929 Junto has Vinson’s “Movie Notes”:

The Vitaphone and Movietone may mark the era of a greater motion picture, but if sound pictures are to appease the appetites of people above the type of comic section habitues, the producers must change their ideas. Now they are calling in the theme song boys, those song and dance lads with the mentalities of George Jessels and Al Jolson, while the great artists of the screen, Emil Jannings and Charles Chaplin, are idle. Emil cannot speak English and Charlie doesn’t like sound pictures. He is supposed to be making a picture now, the story of a tramp’s love for a beautiful and blind flower girl, but it seems that he is hesitating because of the public’s now clamorous demand for sound, and he is essentially a pantomimic artist. I say, a picture with either Emil Jannings or Charlie Chaplin is worth all the stuff they are giving us now in sound!

Another thing: With sound pictures at their present status, the moving picture will be only a medium for American stories of the present time. What sense would there be in a magnificent costume picture of another country, and American slang phrases hopping all over the place? And of course they won’t give us pictures depicting people in other countries in their true linguistic settings because the American public pays at the box office, and they won’t pay for such pictures.

I am not ordinarily an awe-struck movie fan, and I hasten to assure you that I don’t indulge in movie “crushes,” but I have a weakness for Nancy Carroll [below], first, (really!) because of her very fine and versatile histrionic ability and then because she is red-headed and Irish and has pretty legs. So I sat down and wrote her what I considered a really sensible note, referring only to the first reason for my admiring her, and incidentally offering the suggestion that in the future she have them place the microphone so her voice will properly record all she is singing or saying. (Perhaps you have noticed this fault in Abie’s Irish Rose and The Shopworn Angel?) My awaited reply to this letter consists of a bunch of words printed on a government post card, thus:

“Dear Friend:

I have your note and want to thank you very much for taking so much interest in me and my screen work.

I wish I could send you free of charge the photograph you desire, but because so many thousands of requests have been coming in of late, I have found it compulsory to ask my friends to help defray the actual expense of the photographs desired. If you care to do this, I will be indeed happy to send you any of the following variety of photos for the sum mentioned:” (Then she goes on with her price list, consisting of several sizes of her pictures.)

Oh! shades of Erin Isle and Terrence McSweeney! I didn’t want one of her pictures! My red-headed Irish movie star must have gotten fleas from Sandy MacDuff!

At the end of August, Truett took a trip to Colorado. More to come . . .

Nancy Carrol

The Vinson Papers — Part 3

[By Rob Roehm. Originally posted July 6, 2011, on the REH Two-Gun Raconteur blog. This version updated and edited.]

Part 1

Part 2

There’s not much on the record for Truett at the close of 1925. He is only mentioned a couple of times in Howard’s letters, and those in passing. Vinson, Smith, Howard, and Klatt did have a wild party at Clyde’s uncle’s ranch that Christmas, the details of that drunken spree are recounted in Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, and here is a poem that Klatt sent to Smith in January:

Stone Ranch

We arrived in the night of a new day
under a high leering green moon
With a new norther and Truett
drunk on three bottles of beer.
We found well-under-porch-roof
nondescript house, stove table, chairs.
Bed and a cot, lamp and chaps, ax and a bottle
of blackleg medicine setting on a two cent stamp.
Talking, laughing, roaring. Clyde and Bob sick on Jake.
Truett and Clyde slept and I and Bob sat at the stove
and talked till the vague cutting cold sunless dawn.

There’s also not much for the early part of 1926. It’s clear from Howard’s surviving correspondence that visits were made and letters were written, but other than Post Oaks, there’s no real mention of Truett in other documents until the summer; he was a working man, after all.

According to the Brownwood Bulletin for July 6, 1926, Vinson and his sister Blanche visited one of their siblings at Big Lake, Mrs. M. A. Wilson, the former Grady Vinson. Later that summer, Truett took a vacation in New Orleans, as reported in the August 24 edition of the Bulletin. At the end of the summer, Lena Vinson’s fiancé died, and Truett went to Arlington for the funeral (all of the above articles are reprinted in School Days in the Post Oaks).

School started, and both Clyde and Bob were attending classes through the rest of 1926 and the first half of 1927, but in early May 1927, Truett and Bob took a train ride to Galveston to see the “Bathing Girls Review” (according to Dark Valley Destiny). Then, after Howard’s August 3 graduation, the guys took another train ride, this time to San Antonio:

Brownwood Bulletin for August 16, 1927

Before arriving in Austin, Truett sent a postcard to one of his correspondents, Harold Preece:

The front of this card is at the top of this post.

In his recollection of their first meeting, from “The Last Celt,” Preece sets the date in July, but it seems unlikely that Howard would have gone to Austin twice in this short period, not to mention Galveston and San Antonio, never mind Mexico as Preece remembers below:

Our first session was held in the Stephen F. Austin Hotel at Austin, my home town. Those two were returning home from a vacation, I believe, in Mexico. July should have been the month, 1927 was the year. I remember that the evening was the first one set for the execution of those poor heretics, Sacco and Vanzetti, though Massachusetts would extend a few weeks more of its granite-ribbed clemency before burning its latest witches.

Bob took over the three-way conversation as I recall, but by some easy, natural right of knowledge. Truett, I suppose, was used to being his willing auditor. I found my-self eagerly listening.

From the August 29, 1927 issue of the Brownwood Bulletin.

This meeting was one of the important steps on the way to The Junto, which probably began with the April 1928 issue, mailed out in March. Between the August 1927 meeting and the April 1928 “publication” of the first Junto, Preece describes what happened, again from “The Last Celt”:

Friendships kept converging and, through letters, kept broadening. Bob began writing also to my sister, Lenore, who was winning poetry prizes at the University of Texas, and to Booth Mooney, a Lone Scout and son of an old grassroots Baptist rebel in that Bible-tamed cowtown of Decatur. In Dallas, Maxine Ervin and her sister, Lesta, were teaching me bridge, a game that I soon forgot and never relearned after the girls vanished from my world. A scattered little circle of mavericks began developing; Bob, the one professional among us, was its star.

Out of this mix of friends, which also included Herbert Klatt, The Junto was born. Glenn Lord described the venture as follows:

The little monthly travelogue consisted of one typewritten copy per issue, distributed from member to member on its mailing list, which probably never exceeded twenty persons at one time.

After reading an issue, members wrote their comments beneath their names on the mailing list, and then sent the issue on to the next person on the list. When the issue had made the rounds, it was sent back to the editor, who then typed up the best of the comments and included them in the next issue, under the heading “The Commentary.”

That first issue of The Junto had probably just been returned to Booth Mooney when one of its members sickened to die. Herbert Klatt was institutionalized in late April and died on May 10, 1928. The cause of death is listed as “pernicious anemia.”

The Klatt family at Herbert’s grave in Aleman, Texas.

Klatt’s death moved members of the mailing list to action, spearheaded by Clyde Smith and Truett Vinson, who sent the following to Clyde on May 16:

Mooney proposes that we issue a press printed edition of his Junto in honor of Klatt, the edition to be solely devoted to appreciatory articles about Klatt by Bob, you, Mooney, Preece, myself, etc. Also I suggested that we include some of his own writings, excerpts from his letters, etc.

So get in touch with Mooney, if you favor such a scheme, and send him an article anyway, because if the press printed edition is not issued, his regular typewritten travelogue will be issued as a memorial number. And will you contribute a dollar or two in order to put out the press printed edition?

On May 21, Vinson sent out a circular letter to as many friends as he thought would be interested. The letter contains a note about Klatt’s funeral, and the following:

Booth Mooney says that we can print a 6 x 9 press printed paper (the 6 x 9 press printed sheet holding as much as a 8 x 11 typewritten sheet) for the nominal cost of $1.00 per page per one hundred copies. That would certainly be cheap, and I think we should issue possibly a six or eight page paper in honor of Herbert. Clyde Smith suggests for us to wait and issue a pamphlet containing our appreciations, also (mainly) an anthology of Herbert’s writings, or perhaps a real cloth bound book instead of a paper bound pamphlet. Let us have your suggestions at once. Will you be willing to contribute to either or both? We might issue a paper now, containing our appreciatory articles, and then issue the anthology later. But let us know what you think!

Booth Mooney received the above letter and wrote the following to Clyde:

The July issue of THE JUNTO will be the Klatt Memorial Edition. It will be typed as are regular issues, but it will contain only material by and regarding Klatt. Will you send something for that issue? It would be appreciated, I assure you.

By May 25, Vinson had more details:

Bob Howard, Clyde Smith, Hildon V. Collins, and I believe Harold Preece, and I are all in favor of letting the memorial number of THE JUNTO slide by—that is the press printed issue. As Collins expresses it, it will be false economy to spend money on such an issue, and then turn around to raise money for a book containing our appreciations of Herbert Klatt, also his anthology. If Booth Mooney feels like issuing his JUNTO as a memorial number, sending it out just as he has been doing, then we want to help him, but we propose that we all save our money and issue a regular book later on, to contain our appreciations, also extracts from Herbert’s letters – in fact these extracts to make up the large part of the book. These letters, we feel, contain things which should be preserved for other people – and then, we should erect some kind of a memorial in Herbert’s honor, and what better could we do than edit and publish his thoughts on various subjects? It would make a very readable and instructive and worth while book!

He goes on to outline costs and discuss strategies, proposing a Herbert Klatt Memorial Fund to raise money for the venture. In a June 5 bulletin, he elaborates:

I suggest that we arrange our campaign to secure money for this undertaking to cover a period of one or two years. We then would accept pledges from everybody concerned, the pledges to be paid within this period of time. In that time we can be arranging material for the book, and not be so rushed but that we can make it just what it ought to be. If it costs $200.00 to publish this book, we should have forty people contributing $5.00 each, or more people contributing less money. But each person should not be asked for more than $5.00. What do you think? But then, where are the forty people? This circular letter is going to only about seven or eight. You must help me get in touch with the other thirty-two people! Send me their names and talk this thing up!

What happened from here is anyone’s guess. There is no mention of Klatt or the memorial fund in Harold Preece’s first letter to Clyde Smith, dated July 26, 1928, nor in any of the surviving correspondence between any members of the Junto group (at least the letters I’ve seen). In Glenn Lord’s “The Junto: Being a Brief Look at the Amateur Press Association Robert E. Howard Partook In as a Youth,” he writes the following: “Reportedly the July 1928 issue was the Herbert Klatt memorial issue.” If the issue actually was sent out, it may have cooled interest in the book publication mentioned in Vinson’s letters, but we’ll probably never know for sure. This appears to have been one of the issues that were destroyed in a fire at Mooney’s parents’ home.

While Klatt had gone west, the Junto lived on. More on that next time . . .

[For Herbert Klatt’s complete story, see Lone Scout of Letters.]

Herbert Klatt on the farm in Aleman, circa 1926.

The Vinson Papers — Part 2

From the 1924 edition of The Pecan, Howard Payne College’s yearbook.

[By Rob Roehm. Originally posted July 3, 2011 on the REH Two-Gun Raconteur blog. This version updated and lightly edited.]

Part 1 is here.

Shortly after graduating from Brownwood High School in May 1923, Truett Vinson enrolled in the commercial school at Howard Payne College. In the past, there has been some confusion between Howard Payne’s Commercial School and its Academy. Before we continue, let’s see if we can clear that up.

As most of this blog’s readers probably know, to be eligible for college entry in Texas in the 1920s, students needed 11 years of schooling. The problem was that many schools at the time, especially “country” schools, only went as far as the 10th grade—Cross Plains High School, for example. So, many rural students needed a place to go to pick up that extra year. There were a couple of options available in nearby Brownwood: Robert Howard completed his 11th year at the public high school there and, a couple of years later, his friend Lindsey Tyson chose option #2, the Howard Payne Academy.

The Academy at HP offered a complete high school education, all four years (8th grade to 11th), with special attention paid to preparing students for the rigors of college coursework. It had its own principal (in 1924 it was A. Hicks, who also taught Science and Spanish), teachers, and facilities separate from the regular college campus. Students could take as many classes as they needed to complete the college requirements. The following excerpts from the Academy section of the June 1924 college catalogue should help clear things up:

Housed in the Academy building, but not limited to Academy students, was the Commercial School. Academy students were encouraged to take commercial courses to help them in college (typing, penmanship, etc.), but more in-depth coursework was available for anyone wishing to pursue a career in bookkeeping, stenography, banking, etc. This was the option Truett Vinson (and, later, Bob Howard) chose. See the following from the same catalogue:

Vinson attended the Commercial School from the fall of 1923 through the spring of 1924, taking instruction from J. E. Basham. While enrolled, he was a member of the college’s Brownwood High School Club with others from his BHS class, including C. S. Boyles and Claude and Travis Curtis, all of whom may be in the picture that heads this post. Vinson graduated on May 21, 1924, with a diploma for bookkeeping. Unlike his friend Bob Howard, Truett would use his.

Above: Vinson on April 21, 1924. Photo courtesy of Christopher Oldham, by way of Todd Vick.

At least by April 1925 Vinson was employed, possibly with the Walker-Smith company in Brownwood. In a letter to Clyde who was vacationing in the South, Vinson wrote, “Starting next Saturday, I get off at one o’clock instead of five.”

At least two Vinson letters from the above exchange survive. The first, dated April 15 [1925], reveals Truett’s interest in the muckraking of Upton Sinclair—an interest that went on for many years—as well as his interest in the ladies: “a certain young lady by the name of Z— B—- still lives on Center Avenue!” (This must be Zana Brown, who was a freshman at BHS when Truett was a senior and lived at 800 Center Avenue.)

It appears that the whole crew (Vinson, Smith, Howard, and even Herbert Klatt) were under the spell of Sinclair. Vinson wrote the following in the April 15 letter:

Mr. Howard, the noted muck raker, has not countered, again, with a “Right Hook,” but I expect that when he does, we will think it is a right hook and left hook put together! You will probably note with interest that Robert is laying off so much of that “Easturn Bull” and is writing in true Sinclair style now. I am certainly glad to know it, and I believe he will make a good muck raker!

In a follow up letter on April 26, Vinson told Clyde the following:

When I take a trip to the wicked city, I too, am certainly going to see all there is to be seen in the way of legs! I suppose legs are my one weakness! They’ll probably put this inscription on my tombstone: “Here lies a fool. He was not a thief; he was not a murderer; he was not a libertine; BUT he had one weakness—-LEGS!”

And this:

I wrote another letter to U. Sinclair a few weeks ago, asking him for his opinion of Christ and what he thought of Papini’s “Life of Christ.” He answered by saying that he considered Papini’s book a pitiful production, and that he was sending me a copy of his book, “The Profits of Religion.” It arrived OK and I have finished reading it. He rather shocked me, as he took some “muckraking” cracks at nearly every religion in the world! He sure jumped on Billy Sunday, Gypsy Smith, Thomas Dixon, Dr. Lyman Abbot and Roman Catholicism! But I find that he is really more of a real Christian than most church members, and that he regards Jesus in a far more worthier way.

Besides girls and Upton Sinclair, the boys were all experimenting with amateur journalism. At the same time that Clyde Smith was producing The All-Around Magazine, Vinson had his own paper going. No issues of his The Toreador survive from 1923, but Robert Howard mentions subscribing to it in his October 5, 1923 letter to Smith. This is right around the time Howard was producing his own Golden Caliph. All of these publications appear to have ended before 1923 was over, but in 1925 The Toreador made a comeback with at least two issues (June 1925 and July 5, 1925); Bob Howard, too, revamped his publication into the aforementioned Right Hook. The boys’ correspondent, Herbert Klatt, contributed to both, and all of them exchanged letters fairly regularly.

The Cross Plains Review for Friday, May 22, 1925 reports that “Clyde Smith and Truett Vinson of Brownwood spent Saturday night and Sunday with Robert Howard.” Perhaps they were discussing their amateur papers.

In the April 26 letter mentioned above, Vinson gives us a peek at what was going on behind the scenes:

H. Klatt is now corresponding with Robert, and he tells me in his last letter that Robert advises him to read Talbot Mundy for some real thrills. Robert tells him that you and I don’t agree with him on the subject of T. Mundy, and so I write Klatt and tell him that we don’t.

Klatt appears to have been a level-headed young man. Putting such minor differences as described above aside, Klatt pitched his plan for the future to Clyde Smith in a May 27, 1925 letter:

Truett tells me about your trip to Cross Plains, its attendant incidental experiences. I wish I could have been with you in that talk on books and other things that lasted till 3 o’clock in the morning. It must have been interesting. [. . .] I have an idea: Since the four of us being more or lees “Men of letters” and so-called radicals, we should be able to form an interesting and mutually helpful company. The Fiery Fearless Four. We could have some letterheads with our heading printed. And then what about jointly publishing an official organ? By each contributing $2.00 per month we could make The Toreador an interesting little six or eight page paper. Truett could manage it, mail the subscription copies and divide the rest among us to keep or mail as samples. We could make it our very own channel of expression. What do you think about the plan in general? I have a lot more plans in connection with it.

On July 10, 1925, Robert E. Howard spent the night at Clyde Smith’s house in Brownwood. The next day, he was on the receiving end of a practical joke engineered by Smith, and apparently with Vinson’s assistance. The Brownwood boys knew that Howard was girl-shy, so it was arranged for Smith’s girlfriend, Echla Laxson, to come on to Howard while they rode around in the back seat of Smith’s car. Howard turned the tables on his friends, however, by returning Laxon’s advances, even going so far as to kiss the girl. According to Howard’s semi-autobiographical novel, Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, this caused a brief falling out between himself and the Brownwood boys.

In a circa September 1925 letter to Robert E. Howard, some of which was used in Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, Vinson continues the themes from his letters to Smith:

I have just been thinking about girls and marriage today! Funny subject isn’t it? I like girls and some day I’d like to get married to one of them—but, ye gods! Which one? I’ve never seen a girl yet that would make an ideal wife for me. Is it because I’m so plague taked different? Tell me! “I like girls but they don’t like me!”

And . . .

I note that Upton Sinclair is nominated for Governor of the noble state of California by the Socialist party. What do you think of it, anyway? Upton has a new book now—“Letters to Judd” is the title of it. I’ll send you a paper bound copy this week. Be sure to read it.

Lest people think that Vinson was a two-trick pony, it is important to note that he, and everyone mentioned above, was above all things a Reader. Practically all of his letters mention something he has read; this, plus the fact that he was a book dealer on the side, serve to portray him as a pretty well-rounded fellow, with a healthy interest in the opposite sex, and an equally healthy interest in the world around him. In the four letters mentioned in this and my previous post (all from Texas A&M’s Cushing Memorial Library and Archives), Vinson mentions having read the following titles: Desert of Wheat by Zane Grey, Tarzan the Terrible by Burroughs, Life of Christ by Papini (see excerpt from The Toreador below), The Profits of Religion by Sinclair, Autobiography of Benito Cellini, and Letters to Judd by Sinclair; he also mentions authors Talbot Mundy and Arthur B. Reeve, though no specific work is named. All this in just a little more than four typed pages.

With the summer of 1925 over, Smith enrolled at Daniel Baker College, Howard tried to make a living in Cross Plains, and Vinson continued at his job. Their amateur journals ceased publication, but a new one was coming.

Post Oaks and Football–Revisited

[By Rob Roehm. Originally posted on September 10, 2011, at rehtwogunraconteur.com. This version lightly edited and updated.]

With football season getting started, I was reminded of my first post on the Two-Gun Raconteur blog, “Post Oaks and Football.” In that post, I talked about how accurate the opening scene of Howard’s semi-autobiographical novel Post Oaks and Sand Roughs is. This got me thinking, so I pulled the Grant edition from the shelf and read the chapter again. [The text is the same in the new edition put out by the REHF Press.] The following conversation between Steve Costigan (Howard) and Clive Hilton (Tevis Clyde Smith), which takes place right after the football game discussed in my first post, grabbed my attention:

“That was sure a great run Franey made, wasn’t it?” remarked Steve.
“Yes, it was,” Clive acquiesced.
“Guess you’re here writing the game up for The Rattler?”
“Yes. I guess the student body’ll read it, on account of Franey.”
[. . .]
“I guess I’ll have the title lines in ten point type,” Clive said suddenly. “I think I’ll try a new style for the front page this week. The students won’t know the difference but a man appreciates his own work.”

Given how accurate Howard’s description of the football game had been in this fictional work, I wondered if he had played fast and loose with the post-game conversation or kept mostly to the facts. Luckily, I had a way to fact check it.

At Texas A&M’s Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, they’ve got Smith’s collection of The Tattler, including the edition that came out right after the November 27, 1924 game between Howard Payne and Simmons. Both of my questions are answered on the front page.

First, “Clive” says he’s writing an article about the game for the paper. In the real world, Clyde Smith was editor-in-chief of The Tattler for the 1923-24 school year. The paper’s staff box does not list a sport’s editor, so I guess we can’t be certain who wrote the following story, but my money’s on Clyde:

After that, “Clive” says he’s going to experiment with a new style for the paper that week. Clyde Smith did exactly that:

Written in 1928, Post Oaks and Sand Roughs is presented as fiction, but it’s sure got a lot of fact included. If nothing else, this underlines how good Howard’s memory was. I can’t remember a conversation from last week, never mind four years go.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

[By Rob Roehm. Originally published in Onion Tops #62, Feb. 2015. A revised version was posted on March 17, 2015, at rehtwogunraconteur.com; this version slightly updated.]

Mary Ervin, aka “Maxine,” the youngest of her Ervin clan, was born at Big Spring, Texas, on October 12, 1906, to William Vinson Ervin, Sr. (Hester Howard’s brother) and Ida Ezzell Ervin (the sister of Hester Howard’s former heart-throb, Frank Ezzell). In January 1908, the Ervin family played host to William’s sister, Hester, her husband, Dr. I. M. Howard, and their baby boy, Robert. The Howards stayed a few weeks “due to illness” and then made their way to Seminole, up in Gaines County.

The 1910 US Census for Howard County, Texas, lists W. V. Ervin, age 48, as “Editor” for a “Paper” in Big Spring, with wife, Ida, 38; two sons, Vinson, 15, and Jessie, 13; and two daughters, Lesta, 8, and Maxine, 3. By the time of the 1920 Census, Jessie had flown the coop, W. V. was upgraded to “Publisher,” and everyone was 10 years older.

In 1921, Maxine participated in at least two declamation contests for the Big Spring high school, winning first place at one of them. She was on the Seventh Grade Exercises program with a “Reading” (sister Lesta performed a piano solo).

There is little evidence of the Ervins in the Big Spring High School yearbooks, the El Rodeo: only the senior photo of Lesta from 1919 and the “Irven” in the “Public Speaking Club” from 1922 that heads this post. My guess is that’s Maxine. She bears a striking resemblance to her Aunt Hester, if you ask me.

In the early 1920s, W. V. Ervin appears to have been starting newspapers in several small Texas towns, including Gail, Westbrook, and Putnam, all practically ghost towns today (yes, I’ve been to all of them). This caused him to be away from the family much of the time, but items in the newspapers show that he visited home frequently, and that his daughters often returned the favor—when they had a break from school. While working on the paper at Putnam, in Callahan County, the Ervins visited the Howards in Cross Plains:

The Misses Maxine and Lesta Erving [sic.], of Big Springs [sic.] were visiting their uncle, Dr. Howard and family, last week. They formerly were in the newspaper business, and for a time the two girls published a paper at Putnam, doing all the work themselves. They stated that they thought Cross Plains was a splendid town, and their visit here was a pleasant one.

Cross Plains Review – Oct. 5, 1923

In a letter dated the same day as the newspaper, Robert E. Howard told Tevis Clyde Smith a little more about the visit: “I’ve had two cousins visiting me, whom I hadn’t seen for fifteen years. They’d read the International Adventure Library and from what they said, Dracula is a hum-dinger. I’m going to order the set right away.”

In 1924, Maxine ran an ad in the Big Spring paper: “I am prepared to take a few pupils in expression. Maxine Ervin.” Also in 1924, sister Lesta moved to the big city and landed a job with the Dallas News; by 1927, Maxine had joined her as both appear in that year’s Dallas City Directory at 2515 Maple Avenue. Early in 1927, Lesta switched from the newspaper game to Etna Insurance. In November, their father William died.

In his essay, “The Last Celt,” Harold Preece reports on Maxine’s activities at the time: “During 1927, while I was enrolled at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, I was introduced by a fellow student to a visiting Dallas girl named Maxine Ervin. Maxine was employed as a clerk by a Dallas newspaper, though she shared my then very incipient literary ambitions. She was a remarkably intelligent woman, and a friendship of some years would follow.”

In another of Preece’s essays, “Robert’s Lady Cousin,” he describes Maxine as handsome and conservative, and says that she once described her cousin Robert as “a Tristan” from Celtic legendry. That essay also describes a 1927 Lone Scout convention that gave rise to a group called The Junto. Maxine was responsible for a photo of those Lone Scouts that appeared in the paper (an alternate shot appears above), was mentioned in the 1927 Texicoma Yearbook (a copy is here), and ended up being a member of The Junto, as well, but not many of her contributions have surfaced.

In 1928, Maxine is listed as a “journalist” with her sister at 4933 Victor Street in the city directory, but she wasn’t in Dallas for the whole year; on September 21, 1928, the Big Spring Herald reported the following: “Miss Maxine Ervin arrived from Dallas to accept a position with the West Texan, the new weekly publication, which is to make its advent here in the near future.” By 1929, Maxine appears to have moved back to Dallas. Both she and Lesta are at 2505 Maple in the city directory. Maxine again listed as “journalist.”

In March 1928, The Junto began its circulation. The first contribution by Maxine that survives is a comment on a previous issue that appeared in the October 1928 mailing:

Good Lord! What are we, cut throats? Have we lost sight of our treasured philosophy, our staunch independence, etc., etc? Did somebody accidentally drop a bomb that wasn’t a dud? I feel like I’d just been in a volcano or something after all this. The Junto is very good. Who is A.M.Y.? No fair hiding behind an alias. Anyway, what he or she said about Truett isn’t quite fair. As for “Our Beloved Barbarian” he can take care of himself.

Her only contribution to the December 1928 issue is this short comment about the November issue: “Not as good as usual.”

Around this time, Junto editor Booth Mooney was asking for biographies of the members. Robert E. Howard was less than enthusiastic about this, telling Clyde Smith in a letter that “I’ve decided I don’t care to have mine appear in the Junto. There are several reasons, the main one being that as several of my cousins receive it, my mother would be pretty near bound to hear about it and there are a good many things in my life that I don’t want her to know about.”

By July 1929, Maxine was back in Big Spring again; on The Junto’s mailing list for that month, Maxine had crossed out the Maple Avenue address and written “Box 1224, Big Spring, Texas.” She also had this comment about the mailing: “The best issue we have had in a long time, and it still has plenty of room for improvement.”

The August 1929 Junto contains a rather sexist piece on women by Harold Preece. Maxine wrote the following on the mailing list: “This issue is very good. I agree with Schultze that Harold is all off about women. Fact is, all men are.” She followed this short comment up with a longer one in the September mailing:

More about Mr. Preece
by Maxine Ervin

I may be putting my foot into it, but I feel like Harold has rather flung a challenge at some of “us girls” and that it should be taken up.

Don’t misunderstand me—I’m not defending womanhood against any mere male’s implications, accusations, attacks, satires, or what not for the simple reason that it isn’t necessary and it isn’t needed. Woman stands alone. She doesn’t give two “whoops and a holler” (quoting hill slang) what the world thinks of her; not if she is all genuine woman, she doesn’t; she may pretend she does, but deep down in her heart, she knows it isn’t so, and that she is going to go her own sweet way and enjoy herself.

The trouble is that women are just now beginning to find themselves. They have been so hampered and fettered by these generations past of strong men that they haven’t had the time nor the opportunity to find out what they really and truly do want. They are just now beginning to understand what life is all about and the vital part that they can play in it. They are learning that they have rights and the power to assert those same rights.

Pistols and horse whips have played a large part in woman’s emancipation, for she has learned that she, too, can meet brute force with brute force when it becomes necessary. If more women would shoot and horse-whip men who insult them and try this cave-man stuff, there’d be less of it, believe it or not.

The fact of the business is that men don’t like to see their chattels, toys, buffoons, slaves and what-not getting on an equal footing with them, economically, socially, or otherwise. It doesn’t suit his male desire for supremacy, for bullying, and brow-beating. He is denied having a meek, helpless something on which to vent the rage and other emotions that he is not man enough to control.

Oh, be fair. I think that all of this double-standard business is the most asinine, insane, and idiotic rot that ever was. I also think the same thing about this constant war of the sexes. We are human; we have human desires, aspirations, and hopes; we have our peculiarities, but first, last, and all the time we are HUMAN. Why can’t we behave as such and live and let live? Of course, there are some men who are unspeakable and some women who are unspeakable, but there are so many, many times their number who are real that I think it is silly to think of the few misfits and rotters when there are so many wonderful ones to think about.

Perhaps women haven’t yet become artists and musicians to rank with their brothers, but give them time. There never has been anything yet that women haven’t been able to attain once they set themselves to it. Anything within reason and that can be accomplished without a great deal of force as wars, for instance.

This is the way I feel about the subject. But I agree with Schultze that Harold should study his subject more. I am inclined to think that for some reason Harold is prejudiced and has not yet been able to re-assume an open minded attitude on the subject. Yet he swears he’s a genuine socialist!

This was the last of Maxine’s contributions to The Junto, as far as we know. The mailing list for the February 1930 issue has her address as “Maxine Ervin, c/o Beaumont Enterprise, Beaumont.” The US Census for that year has her there with her sister Lesta B., lodgers in the hotel of William Martin; Maxine’s occupation is listed as “newspaper work.”

By 1934 she’d moved to Longview, where she appears in the city directory with her mother and brother, William Vinson, Jr. In 1935 she had a short story, “They Die by Night,” published in Murder Mysteries. She appears to have spent some time writing radio scripts in Texas and California after this. In 1937, her first novel appeared, Death in the Yew Alley. I found a copy of this and can’t recommend it, nor its digest release, retitled If I Die, It’s Murder (1945). An October 30, 1938 article in the Wichita Daily Times (click here) has Maxine living in Wichita Falls, but the 1940 Census has her back in Longview, working as a reporter, with two years of college under her belt. Her mother Ida died in November of that year; the obituary reports Maxine’s address as Houston. On August 14, 1945, Maxine was the “informant” on sister Lesta’s death certificate. Her residence is reported as Fort Worth, profession is “writer.”

On July 27, 1948, the Breckenridge American had this: “Mary Ervin has come up from Mineral Wells to help out with society a while, telephone her your news.” Two days later, they ran a follow up:

Miss Mary Ervin has come as a relief worker on society to the Breckenridge American. She is away from California about three years. We asked today to give us her first impression of Breckenridge. She wrote:

“A gradual descent extending over more than three years has taken me from San Francisco’s forty-five degree hills to Mineral Wells’ not-so-steep hills, to the smooth, level prairie that is Breckenridge. My notion was Breckenridge leaned more to hills and woodlands than to prairie, so I had a surprise. It is all one piece of that long West Texas stretch which reaches from Fort Worth to El Paso. Breckenridge is a nice place to be in and part of, even if it hasn’t an up and down side to it.”

This didn’t last long though. The August 10 issue has this: “Miss Mary Ervin, who has been helping out in American office, in hospital in Mineral Wells—Society news will be printed as sent in until successor arrives.”

The early 1950s has Mary working the Society column for the Liberty Vindicator, out of Liberty, Texas. An introductory piece, “Mary Ervin New Editor of Page,” appeared on August 30, 1951. Her pieces appeared until at least mid-1952.

On July 25, 1963, Mary “Maxine” Ervin died of heart failure at the Wichita Falls State Hospital. Her residence at the time was the Jerome Hotel in Mineral Wells. Her profession was recorded as “reporter.” She is buried in an unmarked grave at the Riverside Cemetery in Wichita Falls.

The empty space between the headstone on the right and the two headstones on the left is the unmarked grave of Mary “Maxine” Ervin.

Contact Without Friction!

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted at rehtwogunraconteur.com on September 4, 2012. This version slightly expanded.]

In 1928, Robert E. Howard was looking for contacts outside of the small town he was living in. A reader of the E. Haldeman-Julius publications, it seems likely that he encountered an ad for a correspondence club in an issue of The Debunker or Haldeman-Julius Weekly.

At least as early as the mid-1920s, a Pennsylvania chemist named Merlin Wand had started a list of “intellectually marooned” pen-pals. By 1927, he had acquired enough names to start a “one-man operation called ‘Contacts’ [which] was a clearinghouse for isolated book-lovers and neophyte writers.” (*) He began placing ads in various publications—The Survey, Haldeman-Julius Weekly, etc.—where, for the cost of a stamp, interested individuals would receive the “Contacts Listing Form.” Once the form was completed, applicants sent it and one dollar back to Wand to be listed in Contacts, “the only correspondence club for the mentally marooned.” (**) A typical ad appears below:

Contact Without Friction!

Are you mentally isolated? “Contacts,” literary correspondence club, introduces you to versatile, unconventional minds. No Formalities. Books loaned free to members. Registration fee $1.00. Particulars, stamp: Merlin Wand, Manorville, Pa.

Thanks to the Glenn Lord Collection, we now know that in the spring of 1928, Robert E. Howard mailed in a stamp and was sent the “Contacts Listing Form” on May 26 (see The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard: Index and Addenda). He filled out the personal information, indicating that his general attitude was “Liberal,” that he was “young” and “single” and that his occupation was “Magazine writer, prose and rhyme.”

Based on how Howard filled out his Contacts Listing Form, it appears that he was more interested in gathering information than in obtaining pen-pals. Under a list of 28 subjects including Mysticism, Sexology, Art, Literature, etc., Howard chose only three: Poetry, Anthropology, and Psychology (he typed “Abnormal” after the last). Then, in the “subjects not mentioned” area, he added Criminology and “Obsessional dementia.” In the additional information slot, Howard wrote the following:

Especially would like to hear from anyone having had experiences with cases of compulsory and criminal insanity; information will be treated as confidential. Also interested in devil worship, human sacrifice, anything unusual, grisly or strange.

The fact that this form remained with Howard’s papers shows that he didn’t send it in with the dollar membership fee. One wonders what type of pen-pal he’d have met if he had sent it in.

*Wixson, Douglas. Worker-Writer in America: Jack Conroy and the Tradition of Midwestern Literary Radicalism, 1898-1990. University of Illinois Press: 1998.
**Sears, James Thomas. Behind the Mask of the Mattachine. Psychology Press: 2006.

My Name Is Earl

Earl Lee Comer was one of Robert E. Howard’s first cousins. When his mother died in 1915, he left his home in Big Spring, Texas, to live with the Howard family in Cross Cut. Just 17, he attended the Cross Cut school for at least one year, earning a spot on the basketball team. Whether he was a “big brother” or a “big bother” is not known, but there are a couple of “cousins” mentioned in Howard’s correspondence that could refer to Comer. In 1918, the Howards moved to the nearby town of Burkett (where Robert tried out for the basketball team). Whether or not Comer accompanied them on this move is not known: he may have returned to Big Spring before joining the military on May 25, 1918. Comer visited the Howards many times over the years and may have corresponded with his Cousin Robert. Most of this was not known in 1983 when Comer was introduced, as follows, in L. Sprague de Camp’s biography of Howard, Dark Valley Destiny:

Robert Howard was thirteen years old when his family bought their home in Cross Plains. Although Robert had not outgrown the Burkett school system, which lacked high-school facilities, we surmise that Mrs. Howard’s nephew, Earl Lee Comer, who had come to live with them, had already reached high school age. Very little is known about this nephew, except that he shared the Howards’ house for several years. Robert, in his later letters to Lovecraft, never once mentions the slightly older lad whose presence must have affected him in one way or another. Since the two boys shared the sleeping porch, ate at the same table, and even attended the same high school, it is indeed curious that no mention of him appears in the correspondence of either Robert or his father.

Queries to former teachers at the Cross Plains school and to others who lived in the neighborhood have revealed nothing. All we know is that after completing his high-school courses, Lee Comer left Cross Plains to work for one of the oil companies in Dallas. Perhaps no one will ever know what Robert thought of this interloper in his home or what this orphaned youth thought of his thirteen-year-old cousin. [pg. 133-34]

The second edition of Mark Finn’s Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard (2011) corrects the timing above (which was inaccurate in the first edition), but doesn’t add anything new:

It was at this time [while living in Cross Cut] that Robert had to endure the first of many boarders. His orphaned cousin, Earl Lee Comer, was staying at the Howard house, and attended the Cross Cut High School. Robert was forced to share the sleeping porch with this older boy, who came to them though Hester’s side of the family. Comer stayed for at least a year, presumably until he graduated, and then enlisted in the military. Robert never discussed his cousin to anyone. [pg. 37-8]

I’m not sure how I feel about calling an orphaned cousin “a boarder,” but I’ll leave that alone. What both of these biographies suggest is that Comer’s stay with the Howards was less than ideal, and that Robert E. Howard didn’t talk about it later. So, which is it? Was Comer’s presence in the house something to be endured, or was it welcomed? Did Robert Howard never talk about this cousin, or simply not use his name? Besides the fact that Earl Lee Comer lived with the Howards, what do we really know about him? His story begins in Tennessee . . .

Hester Ann Perry was born in Tennessee in March 1835. Around 1854 she married a gentleman named Good. That union produced three children and ended in 1860—cause unknown. Only Sarah, the youngest child, accompanied Hester when she moved to Illinois. Shortly thereafter, Illinois native John Fletcher Comer came calling. Born in 1837, he too had a child from a previous entanglement, but that son was living with his mother, so John Fletcher wooed and married Hester Ann in 1862. In September 1865, they had their first child together: John Frank Comer. At the time of the 1870 Census, the Comers were living in Massac County, in southern Illinois, and had been joined by another son: James A. Comer. John Fletcher was a farmer; his wife kept house.

By 1880, the family had moved north to the tiny town of Leef, in Madison County. John Fletcher still farmed, but he had a lot of new help: his first child, Jacob W, had returned to live with his father’s family, and one of Hester’s other sons, Thomas S. Good, had come to live with his mother; both boys were in their early twenties. The family laid down its roots in Madison County and had ties there into the mid-20th century.

Between 1880 and 1887, information is scarce, but by the end of 1888 the family had packed up and moved to Missouri—Saint Louis, to be precise. There are several Comers listed in the city directory starting at least as early as 1867, so perhaps they moved to be closer to family. Whatever the reason, in 1889 the Comer men are all listed: “John F” Senior, is an “agent” of some kind; his sons “James K” and “John F, Jr.” are carpenters. The information in the 1890 directory is the same, except that John Sr. is now listed as a salesman, and John Jr. is now going by his middle name, Frank.

The 1891 directory has Frank Comer listed as a collector for the Moffitt-West Insurance Company; in 1893, he is listed as a solicitor. The 1894 and ’95 city directories have the whole Comer clan living together, presumably at John F’s home, with one exception: Frank. During this period Frank had moved south to Commerce and become a reverend. The October 12, 1895 edition of The News Boy (Benton, Scott Co., MO) announced his arrival:

FROM COMMERCE
Quite a crowd was out Sunday night to hear the new preacher, Rev. J. F. Comer, for the first time.

The same paper mentions a few weddings that Rev. J. F. Comer officiated at Commerce later in 1895, but after a January 25, 1896 mention, Rev. Comer drops out of sight. His next appearance is on March 4, 1896, over in Exeter, Barry County, where he married Alice Ervin. The March 12, 1896 Muskogee Phoenix has a few more details:

The friends of Miss Alice Ervin, formerly a resident of Muskogee, and a sister of Mrs. J. 0. Cobb [aka Christena Ervin], will be interested in learning that Miss Ervin was married on Wednesday of last week to Rev. J. Frank Comer, of St. Louis, Mo., at the home of the bride’s parents at Commerce [sic: they lived at Exeter], Mo. The many friends of Miss Ervin in Muskogee join the friends at her home in wishing the wedded couple all the peace, joy and contentment that life affords.

I have found no other mention of J. Frank Comer or his bride in 1896. There is an 1897 Land Ownership map of Richmond, Missouri (Ray County) that has a “J. F. Comer” owning a lot next to a cemetery (below). This could be our man, but the 1897 Saint Louis directory has another candidate, a “John F” Comer listed as a teacher. All the other familiar Comers are sharing a house on Marceau Avenue, but this John F. has “bds” at 3922 N. 20th Street. Whatever the case, by July 13, 1898, both Mr. and Mrs. John Frank Comer were in Saint Louis attending the birth of their only child, Earl Lee. They were not together for long.

The 1899 Saint Louis directory lists “Comer, John F. Jr. Rev” at home with his father at 3113 N. 20th. As wives are not listed in the directories, it is not known if Alice and Earl were living with the Comers, but by 1900, the answer is clear. On June 6, 1900, in the city of Saint Louis, John A. Casserly arrived at the Comer home to enumerate the U.S. Census. He recorded the following: Comer, John F, head of household, age 62, born June 1837, salesman; Comer, Hester A, wife, age 65, born March 1835; and Comer, John F, son, age 34, born September 1865, collector, insurance. In the box for Jr.’s marital status, Mr. Casserly marked “widowed.” Where Alice Comer and her son had gone is a mystery. They do not appear to have been recorded on the 1900 Census.

As for Frank, life went on. He is listed as Rev. John F. Comer, Jr., living with his father, in the 1901 and 1903 Saint Louis directories. He does not appear in the 1904 directory, probably because he was elsewhere, meeting his next wife, Sarah R. They were married in 1905 and were back in Saint Louis by 1908, where Frank is listed in the directory as a clerk at the Saint Louis Times. The 1910 Census shows Frank and Sarah in Saint Louis. Frank is a salesman at a retail store. This second marriage doesn’t appear to have lasted long, either, as the 1920 Census has Comer as a single lodger in the home of Edward McCaslin and family. The 55-year-old Frank Comer reported his profession as Life Insurance Agent. In 1928, John Frank Comer was hit by a car and died. He was buried back at the Comer plot in Edwardsville, Madison County, Illinois.

Following the breakup of the Comer marriage circa 1899, Alice and Earl Lee appear to have sought out the comfort of family in Big Spring, Howard County, Texas, where Alice’s older brother, W.V. Ervin, ran the local newspaper and raised a family. The Comers may have been in Big Spring when the Howards visited there for several weeks around the turn of the New Year in January 1908. The Comers appear on the 1910 Census, there in Big Spring, with Alice listed as a widowed dressmaker (18 years before the death of Frank Comer). In 1911, Earl Lee took part in the formation of Texas’s Troop No. 1, the so-called “oldest Boy Scout troop in Texas,” which began in Big Spring that year. How long he was involved with the Boy Scouts is unknown. On July 14, 1915—the day after his seventeenth birthday—Earl’s mother died, cause unknown. He was shuffled off to a tiny town in Brown County to finish up his schooling. He moved in with his mother’s sister—his aunt Hester Howard—and her family, Uncle Isaac (or perhaps Uncle Cue) and a cousin, one Robert E. Howard, who was just nine years old.

Comer was almost eight years older than his cousin, but the two young men appear to have engaged in behavior typical of teenage boys. Comer joined the basketball squad at the Cross Cut school and was described in a December 10, 1915 Cross Plains Review item as a “goal thrower.” In a May 24, 1932 letter to H.P. Lovecraft, Howard described a scene that seems to include Comer, a known Boy Scout:

Another thing that discourages me is the absolute unreliability of human senses. If a hunting hound’s nose fooled him as often as a human’s faculties betray him, the hound wouldn’t be worth a damn. The first time this fact was brought to my mind was when I was quite small, and hearing a cousin relate the details of a camping trip, on which one Boy Scout shot another through the heart with a .22 calibre target rifle. I was never a Boy Scout, but I understand that they are trained to be keen observers. Well, there were about twenty looking on, and no two of them told the same story in court. And each insisted that his version was the correct one, and stuck to it. And I understand that this is common among all witnesses.

More shenanigans are described in Howard’s circa December 1933 letter to August Derleth:

One of the damndest falls I ever got in my life was on a frozen pool—or tank, as we call them in these parts. I was just a kid, and wrestling with my cousin who was much older and larger. Eventually our feet went from under us, and we both came down on my head.

Both of the incidents that Howard describes could be remembrances of his time in Cross Cut, when his cousin Earl lived with them. Of course, this is just speculation; perhaps Earl’s stay was as bad as de Camp thought it was. Either way, by May 25, 1918, Comer was gone.

Sometime before his departure, Earl had enlisted in the United States Navy, probably at Abilene. His start date was May 25, 1918. Perhaps as part of his enlistment, he ended up in Milwaukie, Wisconsin. At the time of the 1920 Census, enumerated on January 23, he was recorded as a lodger (on a page full of lodgers). A 1920 city directory has “Earl Comer” living at the YMCA. But he was “home” for the holidays that December:

E. L. Comer of Big Spring is here to spend the holidays with his aunt, Mrs. I. M. Howard. He is helping W. E. Butler, grocerman, during the holiday rush.

Cross Plains Review, December 17, 1920

It appears that his discharge from the Navy was completed on September 30, 1921, but given his arrangements in 1920, it seems he was out of the service before then. A January 7, 1921 note from the Big Spring Herald seems to confirm this:

Earl Lee Comer who recently returned from Milwaukee, Wis., where he had been to take a course in mechanical drawing, after spending the holidays with friends and relatives in this city left for Cross Plains where he will make his home.

Earl didn’t stay long in Cross Plains the second time, certainly not long enough to cause the family much trouble. He arrived sometime after January 7, 1921, and was off to Dallas in time to be included in the 1922 city directory. His profession is listed as “draftsman.” He would remain in Dallas until at least mid-1924, possibly into 1925, but by the summer of that year he was way out west. California! He shows up in the 1925 Los Angeles city directory as a draftsman. And, while living in the Golden State, he kept in touch with his relatives in Cross Plains.

In Howard’s Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, his semi-autobiographical novel, the character that represents Howard says that a letter “boosting” his first-published story appeared in Bizarre Stories (aka Weird Tales), and that the “letter had been written by a cousin in California, at [his] special request.” For a couple of cousins who supposedly didn’t get along, a request like that would be unusual. Comer’s letter appeared in the September 1925 issue of Weird Tales and said, in part, “I ran across ‘Spear and Fang’ by Robert E. Howard—a good story of our remote ancestors before the dawn of civilization and intelligence, when man’s reasoning powers were in the formative state. Your July issue affords thrilling entertainment for those who enjoy the unusual. And if you continue to publish such appealing stories, then the well-deserved popularity of Weird Tales is certain to grow.” The addressee’s name was transcribed as “Earl C. Comer of Los Angeles.” But Earl wouldn’t stay there for long.

The September 10, 1926 edition of the Big Spring Herald told of Comer’s return to Texas:

Earl Comer, en route from Los Angeles to Dallas, where he has accepted a position, visited friends in this city this week, leaving Thursday morning for Dallas.

Once he was back in Dallas, Earl Comer’s trips to visit his family and friends in Big Spring and Cross Plains resumed. The November 23, 1928 edition of the Cross Plains Review informed its readers that “E. L. Comer of Dallas, nephew of Dr. and Mrs. Howard, spent past weekend here.” It is shortly after this visit that Robert Howard probably prepared two strange documents. One is just a list of three names: Truett Vinson, Clyde Smith, and Earl Lee Comer; toward the bottom of that page, the word “life” has been added. The other sheet has the same names, with Booth Mooney added after Smith; this sheet includes the cities where these people lived (except for Mooney, who lived in Decatur, not Brownwood) and a few couplets of verse—more indication that relations between Comer and Howard were not strained.

From 1929 to 1933, Comer appears as a draftsman in the Dallas city directories. On April 3, 1930, he was enumerated on the U.S. Census as a draftsman lodger in the city of Dallas. And then things start to get spotty. There is an Earl Comer living in Dennison, Texas, in 1934, but this probably isn’t our man as Lindsey Tyson remembered Comer attending the Howards’ funeral in 1936 and thought that he lived in Dallas.* A 1938 city directory has him still in Dallas. Also in 1938, on December 10 Earl got married to Ruby Nell Poe. His wife accompanied him on at least two visits to Big Spring, one during Christmas 1938 and another in 1939, but after that she disappears. Earl’s 1941 visit to Howard County was taken alone and his death certificate indicates that he was divorced.

[* Here’s what Tyson told de Camp in an October 10, 1977 letter:

There was one relative of the Howards that no one seems to remember much about. His name was Earl Lee Comer. Earl Lee was a nephew of Mrs. Howard’s, he came to live with the Howards while they were still in Burkett. He was an orphan.

Earl Lee left here in the early twenties, went to Dallas, and Bob told me went to work for the Mobile Oil Co. Earl Lee was I think four or five years older than Bob. He came back here to the funeral service and I talked to him for a few minutes before the services, but I did not get to ask some things I was interested in. I was one of the pall bearers, thought I would talk to him some more later, but he left as soon as the service was over and I have never seen him again.]

The few Dallas directories I’ve seen from the 1940s and ’50s all have the same old thing: Comer as a draftsman. After the 1960 directory, which has Earl working for the U.S. Geological Survey, the record goes blank. There is an Earl Comer being brought up on charges of child desertion in Rusk, Texas, in 1963; whether or not this Earl is our Earl, we’ll probably never know. The earliest mention of a Mrs. Earl Lee is December 1938. It seems odd that the couple would have a child young enough to be “deserted” in 1963. I’m guessing this was someone else.

The last definitive sighting of Earl is from the Galveston Daily News for Sept. 16, 1970:

Earl Lee Comer, 72, a retired Galveston draftsman, was found dead in his room at Moody House Tuesday. Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Brookside Memorial Park in Houston, the Rev. William C. Webb Jr. officiating. Cremation will follow under the director of J. Levy and Bro. Funeral Home of Galveston. Born in St. Louis, Mo., Comer worked as a draftsman for the U.S. Bureau of Mines prior to his retirement. No survivors were reported.

His death certificate indicates that he was a retired draftsman from the U.S. Bureau of Mines. Cause of death was acute myocardial failure. He is honored as a veteran at the Houston National Cemetery in Texas.

Thanks to Damon Sasser for the photo of Earl’s grave.

[By Rob Roehm. Originally published in Onion Tops #40, REHupa mailing #229, June 2011, and expanded for posting online at the now defunct Two-Gun Raconteur blog, July 8, 2012, where it won the second place Cimmerian Award for online articles from the Robert E Howard Foundation. The current version incorporates all of the information acquired since then, some of which appeared in “An Earl Addendum” (July 21, 2012) and “Another Earl Addendum” (November 18, 2012) posted at the Two-Gun Raconteur blog, and “The Comer Connection” in Onion Tops #51, REHupa mailing #240, April 2013. With any luck, this will be my last word on Earl Lee Comer.]

The Practical Joke

1929-03-23 v1n45 p01

If Robert E. Howard was ever an actual member of the Lone Scouts of America (LSA) , it was probably during his Cross Plains High School days. In the summer of 1919, C. S. Boyles, Jr., a classmate and future publisher of Howard’s (in Brownwood High School’s Tattler), contributed to that organization’s official organ: Lone Scout. The magazine was the glue that held the membership—isolated almost by definition—together and kept them in contact with each other. Besides Boyles, there was at least one other confirmed Lone Scout in Cross Plains: Renerick Clark. All three of these boys were part of a group that installed “an up to date radio plant” in the Cozy Drug Store in August 1922.

After moving to Brownwood for his final year of high school, Howard met two more former Lone Scouts: Truett Vinson and Clyde Smith. According to Smith, by the time he met Howard in the spring of 1923, he had put “childish things” aside and was no longer an active member of the LSA. Despite that, he produced a handful of issues of what could easily be described as a LSA “tribe paper,” which were mini versions of Lone Scout. One of Smith’s contributors was Herbert Klatt, who may also have been a correspondent of Vinson’s at this time. Smith, Klatt, and Vinson had all sent in their addresses to the “Lone Scout Messenger Department,” which served as a meeting place for would-be correspondents. Later, through Klatt, Vinson “met” Harold Preece, and through Preece, everyone met Booth Mooney.

Over in Bosque County, one of Klatt’s regular Lone Scout contacts was Menloe Jermstad. The two had attended the 1925 Central Texas Encampment on the Leon River and together were responsible for the 1926 Bosque County Lone Scout Rally. Their friendship ended with Klatt’s death in 1928, but it appears that Jermstad had also been introduced to at least some of the Howard circle.

Menloe Andrew Jermstad was born January 24, 1907, and was raised on a farm in Bosque County, Texas. Following his marriage to Clomer Allen on October 6, 1928, he decided to increase his Lone Scout activity for 1929. He started by conducting a Lone Scout department in the Clifton Record and then decided to run for Council Chief of Region 9. And therein lies a tale that involves Robert E. Howard—at least tangentially.

1929-03-09 v1n43 p08

Following the merger of the Lone Scouts with the Boy Scouts in 1924, disgruntled Lone Scouts redoubled their efforts with tribe papers. One of these, Lone Scout Weekly News out of Stigler, Oklahoma, became one of the meeting-places for our cast of characters in 1928-29. The publication featured contributions from several of Robert E. Howard’s acquaintances from The Junto, including Roy McDonald, Roy DeMent, Alex Doktor, Hildon Collins, as well as Preece and Mooney. Early in 1929, Menloe Jermstad announced his candidacy for 1930 council chief. At some point he talked to Harold Preece about his decision and Preece told him the following, which Jermstad contributed to the March 9, 1929 issue of Weekly News:

1929-03-09 v1n43 p01

Since October 1928, Harold Preece had been running a series of articles in Weekly News called “Outstanding Personalities of Region Nine.” He took a break from this for the March 16, 1929 issue and instead ran “Texas Scouts Now in Professional Ranks”:

1929-03-16 v1n44 p04

The March 23 issue revealed the “Joke on Jermstad”:

1929-03-23 v1n45 p07

It seems that the “Texas Scouts” piece was designed, in part, to present Bob Howard’s credentials and thus wind up Jermstad a bit. There is no evidence in Preece’s letters to Clyde Smith or Howard’s letters to Preece that anyone else was even aware of the prank.

A side note: Menloe died on April 24, 1936. I found this little story about his death at ancestry.com:

Clomer Allen Jermstad was tried and convicted for the murder of her husband, Minlow [sic.] Jermstad. The charge was “Murder with Malice” and she was tried in the Meridian, Bosque Co., Texas court house. On October 19, 1936 she was found guilty and sentenced to 45 years in prison. After serving 11 of the 45 years, Clomer received a full pardon dated January 26, 1948 and signed by the Texas State Governor.

In the trial Clomer’s defense had been that she had been forced to poison her husband by her boyfriend, George Pace. Clomer contended that George had threatened to kill her daughter if she did not kill her husband, Minlow. She said that she had given Minlow strychnine mixed with coffee while George watched through the window. Minlow died very soon after consuming the poison and was buried on the same day. George Pace was also tried and convicted of murder and sentenced to prison.

George Pace’s sister, Nancy Anna Bell Pace, was married to Alvin Allen, Clomer’s brother. Alvin AlIen’s son, Charles Birt Allen, insisted that the truth about the murder of Minlow Jermstad was that Clomer had bought the strychnine (rat poison) herself and tried to get George to poison her husband for her. When George refused to do the dirty deed, Clomer poured the poison into Minlow’s coffee.

[Originally published in Onion Tops #53, REHupa mailing #242, August 2013.]

“The Howards Are a Moving People”

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted September 12, 2016 at rehtwogunraconteur.com. This version updated and lightly edited.]

1905 Rand McNally-web

Before getting too far into this, have a look at the section of a 1905 Rand-McNally map above. On the left is Palo Pinto County; near the center of the northern edge is a place called Christian, where a young doctor I. M. Howard practiced in the early 1900s. He also practiced in several nearby communities: Graford, just below Christian about five miles to the south; Oran, about five miles to the east; Whitt, just over the Parker County line to the east of Oran (the little circle next to the vertical “Creek”); and Peaster, Robert E. Howard’s birthplace, about ten miles southeast of Whitt and 40 miles northwest of Fort Worth (off the map to the right). The distance from Christian to Peaster is 25 miles, as the crow flies. On today’s roads, interested travelers can tour all of these tiny towns in one or two hours.

After a brief stint in the Indian Territory, where he had most likely gone to help out his favorite sister, Willie, Dr. Isaac Mordecai Howard (IMH) returned to Texas, where his Physician’s Certificate was filed for record in Palo Pinto County on January 8, 1902. Polk’s Medical Register and Directory for 1902 has him in both Petersburg, Indian Territory (which I assume is a holdover from a previous notification), and Graford, in Palo Pinto County, population 19. He is the only doctor listed there. The 1904 edition has him still in Graford, but the population has grown to 24, one of that number being another doctor, J. M. Patterson.

But the Polk’s directory doesn’t tell the whole story, and maybe not even the correct story. I’m guessing that the 1902 mention at Graford is probably correct, but by the middle of 1903, IMH was listing his address on birth and death records as Christian, not Graford, which would make the 1904 listing another holdover. Polk’s does list one F. R. Bowles practicing in Christian in 1902 (population 50) and 1904 (population 90), but no IMH. The Standard Medical Directory of North America for 1903-04 lists both IMH and Bowles at Christian. It also adds that IMH was “licensed by examination without college diploma” and began his career in 1899.

And, since the good doctor was listing his address as Christian up to November 21, 1904, it’s safe to assume that that is where he and Hester Jane Ervin made their first home together after their January 12, 1904 marriage. (Today, the only remnant of that town is a road sign, “Old Christian Rd,” about five miles north of Graford.)

2013 06-04 013-web

There are few documents to testify where the Howards were from December 1904 to May 1905, but we can hazard a few guesses. The first is over Palo Pinto’s northern county line in Jack County, the tiny town of Bryson. The only evidence for this is an April 13, 1905 item from the Jacksboro News: “Dr. Howard, formerly of Christian but now located at Bryson was in Jacksboro yesterday on business.” The Jack County courthouse had no records pertaining to the Howards when I visited there several years ago. Their Physicians Registry did not go back to 1905, so it’s impossible to know when Howard arrived or if he actually meant to stay there.

During this period, the number of medical schools in Texas was expanding and Dr. Howard picked up his diploma from Gate City Medical College, over in Texarkana, on May 1, 1905. While “the founders of these schools had the best intentions to offer bona-fide instruction in medical science, [. . .] they had too few resources. Most of them ceased operations or were absorbed by other schools within a short time.” [1] Gate City was closed in 1911 when it was caught selling diplomas, but I think it’s safe to assume that IMH spent at least a little time in Texarkana before being awarded his.

Also during that time, the newlywed Howards approached IMH’s older brother, David Terrell Howard, about adopting his youngest son. Wallace Howard told L. Sprague de Camp that Dr. and Mrs. Howard, “they come to mama and papa and wanted to take me and raise me as their, their foster son.” [2] David Howard was farming in Limestone County at the time, some 125 miles southeast of Christian, and had quite a large family (six children in 1904, and 12 before he was finished having children in 1919). In 1977, Wallace Howard wondered if he “wouldn’t have been better off” going with the doctor, but nothing came of the plan and before the summer of 1905, Hester would have known that she was pregnant.

Another possibility is Dark Valley, a few miles southwest of Graford. In July 1977, L. Sprague de Camp interviewed Florence Green, who was close to 100-years-old at the time. In his notes, de Camp writes that “Hester and I. M. Howard came from Christian miles away to Dark Valley as a young married. They lived for several months with Mrs. Green who had a house a few feet away from the creek.” According to Green, the Howards stayed with her until their own place was built, “a little ways down the creek from the Green’s” and when it was time for Hester to give birth, “She went to Peaster, a much bigger town in those days, 1906, and some buggy ride away—a day’s journey—to have the child.” After Robert’s birth, the family returned to Dark Valley for a while, but “[t]hey moved away while Robert was a babe in arms—meaning anywhere from 1-2 years of age.” [3]

There are some problems with Green’s account. There is no record of the Howards buying any land in the vicinity of Dark Valley Creek; why build a home on property they did not own? Mrs. Green also, apparently, didn’t think it was relevant that it was Dr. Howard who recorded the birth of her daughter in 1907 (where he listed Graford on the Record of Birth); at least, it doesn’t show up in de Camp’s notes. Also, in Dark Valley Destiny, de Camp says, “During her pregnancy, Hessie was all smiles and laughter, forever joking with her neighbors, but she never left her husband’s side. She traveled with Dr. Howard wherever he went” (pg. 32), information that must have come from Green, but how would she have known this when, shortly after receiving his diploma, Isaac Howard registered his credentials over in Parker County on May 12, 1905, and his name begins appearing on birth and death records that same month? Hester would only have been about one month pregnant at the time. And Peaster wasn’t the first place they went to in Parker County.

1905 05-23 Whitt Parker-web

On May 23, 1905, Dr. I. M. Howard filed a “Report of Death” for a two-day-old child. The doctor’s address is listed as “Whitt.” The 1904 Polk’s directory lists three doctors in Whitt and sets the population at 430, same as the 1906 edition; none of the listed doctors is IMH.

Shortly after his arrival in Whitt, Dr. Howard appears to have partnered with one of those other doctors, J. D. Pickens, as their names appear together frequently on birth and death records in June and July. The last birth record filed by Pickens/Howard is dated July 19; all of these records list IMH’s address as Whitt. After that July 19 filing, the record goes quiet until August 16, 1905, when Dr. Howard was awarded a “Certificate of Registration” from the Texas Board of Pharmacy indicating that he had “given satisfactory evidence that he is a Qualified Pharmacist.” After that, he moved to Peaster.

From late September to just after Christmas 1905, IMH was listing his address on birth and death records as Peaster. Like Whitt, Peaster already had a doctor or two. In fact, besides J. A. Williams, the doctor who recorded Robert E. Howard’s birth, there was also a Dr. J. M. Blackwell, with whom Dr. Howard planned to share office space, as reported in “Peaster Items,” from the Weatherford Weekly Herald for October 19, 1905:

1905 10-19 Peaster Items - WeatherfordWeeklyHeraldP5

All three doctors appear in the 1906 edition of Polk’s, which has the population of Peaster pegged at 240. (A July 8, 1921 article in the Cross Plains Review announced Blackwell’s arrival in the area and says that he “comes well recommended for his work. He is an old time friend of Dr. I. M. Howard of this place, and a former partner with him in the practice of medicine.”) All of which begs the question: Why was it Williams and not IMH’s partner, Blackwell, who recorded Robert E. Howard’s birth? If you’ve read this far, you probably already know the story. The Howards celebrated REH’s birthday on January 22, 1906, but, probably due to a delay in filing, Williams reported the birth as January 24. He filed the document on February 1st.

The last known sighting of the Howards in Peaster is a notice from the February 19 column, “Peaster Pencilings,” which appeared in the February 22, 1906 edition of the Weatherford Weekly Herald: “Dr. Howard is boasting of the only boy baby of Peaster in 1906.” After that, the trail is cold until a May 31, 1906 “Report of Birth” places him back in Graford, which is probably only where he received mail, since he was no doubt living in Dark Valley at the time.

All of the above makes the following paragraph from Dark Valley Destiny a bit shaky:

Robert Ervin Howard was born on January 24, 1906, in Peaster, Texas, a village in Parker County, ten miles northwest of Weatherford and thirty-five miles due west of Fort Worth. The Howards at that time lived in Dark Valley, a community of some fifty souls in Palo Pinto County, near the Parker County border; but Dr. Howard had taken his wife to Peaster, a larger settlement in the adjacent county, as her confinement drew near. He wished, presumably, to insure adequate medical facilities for her lying-in, as well as the services of Dr. J. A. Williams, the physician who attended Mrs. Howard at the birth of her only child. [pg. 18]

Patrice Lounet pointed out the biggest problem with this a few years ago in his introduction to “The Long Road to Dark Valley” from the now defunct Two-Gun Raconteur Blog: “If Dr. Howard wanted to ‘ensure adequate medical facilities’ for his wife, Peaster would not have been his first choice, but more likely the much larger Weatherford. Or even halfway from there, Mineral Wells, where physicians would be numerous.” [4] But if not for medical attention, then why?

In a 1977 interview with L. Sprague de Camp, Wallace Howard explained it this way: “The Howards are a moving people.” [5] And I can’t do much better than that. IMH seems to have been constantly on the look for greener pastures, and he never shied away from a dramatic move. Being a doctor himself, and having a partnership with another doctor (even though his partnerships never lasted for long), makes the “adequate medical facilities” argument seem a bit thin. I’m more inclined to believe that IMH saw an opportunity there that just didn’t pan out.

I’m fairly confident that one of the reasons IMH came to the Palo Pinto-Parker region in the first place was the railroad: “The Weatherford, Mineral Wells and Northwestern completed twenty-five miles from Weatherford to Mineral Wells in 1891. That year the company owned two locomotives and ninety cars. In 1895 it earned $15,561 in passenger revenue and $38,070 in freight revenue. The line was bought by the Texas and Pacific Railway Company in 1902,” the same year that IMH arrived. [6] And once the mainline was complete, the competition for spurs off of that line began, with rumors and speculation being reported in area newspapers every week; there was even some wild talk of turning the road into “a great transcontinental line” [7]. Of course, nothing quite so grand happened; however, “Construction of an extension of the line to the city of Oran was completed in 1907, and on to Graford the following January.” [8]

Weatherford-Mineral-Wells-Northeastern-web

[Map courtesy of Abandoned Rails]

It may have been these rumors and speculation that encouraged IMH to begin purchasing land in Palo Pinto County. On October 11, 1905, while living in Peaster, Dr. Howard purchased part of lot 1, block 7 in the town of Oran for $50. This must have been a simple investment since, as we have seen, after leaving Peaster the Howards settled in Dark Valley. IMH listed his residence as Graford on birth and death notices from May 31, 1906 until at least May 5, 1907. But he may have been planning a move even before then.

On January 19, 1907, he purchased Lot 6 in Block 54 of the town of Oran for $45. Then, on May 25, 1907, he spent $200 for lots 7 and 8 in Block 7. A few weeks later, June 14, 1907, IMH and wife Hester sold “the North East one fourth (1/4) of Block Seven (7)” for $300. Sounds like a pretty good deal for the Howards. Not long after that, if not before, the family was living in Oran. From August to December 20, 1907, IMH lists his address as Oran. The week before Christmas, he re-filed his credentials in Palo Pinto County to correct a transcription error in his initials from “S. M.” to the correct “I. M.” Two weeks later, he was in Big Spring, way over in Howard County. The West Texas adventure had begun.

NOTES

1: Handbook of Texas Online, D. Clayton Brown, “Medical Education,” accessed September 11, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/sfm02.

2: De Camp, L. Sprague: “Notes on Interview with Wallace C. Howard in Mart, Texas, 7/22/77,” unpublished, housed at Harry Ransom Center (HRC).

3: De Camp, L. Sprague: “Notes from interview with Mrs. Green and visit to Dark Valley with Mr. John Dean McClure,” unpublished, housed at HRC.

4: Louinet, Patrice: “The Long Road to Dark Valley—Introduction,” accessed September 11, 2016, http://www.rehtwogunraconteur.com/the-long-road-to-dark-valley-introduction/

5: De Camp, L. Sprague: “Notes on Interview with Wallace C. Howard in Mart, Texas, 7/22/77,” unpublished, housed at HRC.

6: Handbook of Texas Online, Chris Cravens, “Weatherford, Mineral Wells and Northwestern Railway,” accessed September 11, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/eqw08.

7: “Doing Our Best,” The Daily Herald. (Weatherford, Tex.), Vol. 7, No. 218, Ed. 1 Monday, September 24, 1906.

8: The Weatherford, Mineral Wells, Northwestern Railroad Depot, photograph, 1990?; (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth29853/: accessed September 11, 2016), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Boyce Ditto Public Library.

The Lost Ervin Mine

[By Rob Roehm. Originally published in Onion Tops #65, Aug. 2015. A revised version was posted Sept. 26, 2015, at twogunraconteur.com. The current version has been expanded to include information from Onion Tops #76, Dec. 2018.]

IMG_8426web

Despite an abundance of newspapers that are available online, there are still several collections that can only be accessed in the old-school fashion: ass-in-seat in front of a microfiche reader. [Update: The Lampasas Leader is now available online, here] As I prepared for Howard Days this year, I called around to the local libraries in the towns I was going to visit to see if they had any. Two libraries said they had what I was looking for, though when I actually showed up at the Mount Calm library, I learned that my phone contact had been mistaken. So, I wasn’t expecting much when I arrived at the second location: Lampasas.

Why Lampasas? Well, I’d already been there when researching Howard’s stay in the “old rock hotel” that was “as much fort as hotel” (REH to HPL, ca. May 1935; see my piece in The Cimmerian, vol. 5, no. 5, Oct. 2008), but that was before my slide into genealogy and minutia. In the same 1935 letter, Howard also says that Lampasas is “where my mother spent her girlhood.” And then there’s this, from his December 5, 1935 letter to HPL, “my grandfather had owned a sheep-ranch in the adjoining county of Lampasas in those days [post-Civil War].”

Add to the above the following bit from Howard’s family history, “The Wandering Years”:

A boom was on in Texas; cities were growing. The Colonel [Howard’s grandfather, G. W. Ervin] went into the real estate business [in Dallas], and was successful. But the low Trinity River lands were unhealthful, and, in 1884 [sic.], he moved again, this time southwestward to Lampasas, in the cattle country. Lampasas had been a frontier town in the early ’70s. It was still a cow town, as well, on account of its mineral springs, a health and pleasure resort, the foremost of its sort in the state, before the rise of Mineral Wells.

[. . .]

My grandfather possessed the restlessness of the age. He loaned money, dealt some in cattle; he bought a sheep ranch, but, in the midst of a cattle country, with hired men running it, it was not a success. He wandered over into western New Mexico and worked a silver mine not far from the Arizona line.

That last part about the silver mine has never been verified (until now), but Howard also mentions it in a couple of letters: circa December 1930, to Lovecraft, “Colonel George Ervin came into Texas when it was wild and raw, and he went into New Mexico, too, long before it was a state, and worked a silver mine—and once he rode like a bat out of Hell for the Texas line with old Geronimo’s turbaned Apaches on his trail”; and again in a circa January 1933 letter to August Derleth: “Geronimo once stole a bunch of my grandfather’s horses, and chased him away from the silver mine he was working; chased him with the aid of a mob of his turbaned warriors, of course, that being a job that took a goodly gang of men, whether red or white.” Most of which sounds like family legend, but the Lampasas connection definitely required a visit, especially since the local librarian indicated that they had copies of the Lampasas Leader from the 1880s—only available on-site.

The Roehm party arrived Monday afternoon and got to work. We hit the courthouse first and found several land documents; then we headed over to the library. I gathered the available fiche and parked in front of the reader. I was there until closing time and continued the search when they opened the next morning. What follows is a summary of the Ervins’ time in that fair city [supplemented with information found recently online].

The earliest document I found is dated January 9, 1886, when Robert E. Howard’s mother, Hester Jane Ervin, would have been 15-years-old. On that day, her father, G. W. Ervin, “of the County of Lampasas,” purchased three lots in that “portion of the town of Lampasas known as the Lampasas Springs Company’s first addition to the town of Lampasas.” He appears to have purchased these lots outright for the tidy sum of “fifteen hundred dollars to us in hand paid”—there is no indication of any installment payments due at a later time. The Ervins had arrived.

The next document is another land purchase, dated May 31, 1886. This one appears to be an investment, with $1,500 as down payment, another $1,000 due on June 1, 1887, and “the further sum of six hundred and fifty dollars to be paid on the first day of May A.D. 1892,” not including interest. For this, Ervin picked up “an individual one half interest” in “part of a three league survey” that included a pile of lots in Lampasas.

Next up is a December 23, 1886 document in which Ervin and a partner, L. J. Amos, sell part of the May 31 purchase for $2,156, in installments. That same day, Ervin purchased two more lots in the Lampasas Springs Company’s addition from the said Amos for $1,000, “in hand paid.”

Next on the timeline is an obituary found online from the Galveston Daily News:

MRS. JANE ERVIN

LAMPASAS, Tex., August 11.—Mrs. Jane Ervin, the mother of G. W. Ervin, died here yesterday and was buried today. Mrs. Ervin was born in North Carolina eighty-one years ago, and has been a resident of Texas for twenty-eight years. She was an exemplary Christian and lived an honored and happy life.

On December 3, 1887, over in Temple, Texas, the Temple Daily Times (also found online) had the following item: “G. W. Ervin, of Lampasas is in the city.” What his business there was is a mystery. I guess I’ll have to go back to Temple at some point and have another look.

Another land document was filed in Lampasas on March 6, 1888. In this one, G. W. and wife Alice, “for and in consideration of an individual half interest in six hundred and forty acres of land” in Palo Pinto County, sell the two lots he had purchased from Amos on December 23, 1886.

The library’s collection of newspapers is full of holes, as far as dates are concerned, so there may have been notices concerning the Ervins before this November 24, 1888 item from the Lampasas Leader: “Col. G. W. Ervin left Monday on a business trip to Dallas, Denton and other points in North Texas.”

The Leader for December 29, 1888, confirms the mining claim:

1888 12-29 Lampasas Leader NEW

The April 20, 1889, paper has more: “Col. G. W. Ervin left here Tuesday for Stein’s Pass, New Mexico, to look after his mining interests at that point.” The May 25, 1889 paper announced his return: “Col. Ervin returned Wednesday from Stein’s Pass, New Mexico, where he has been for the past six weeks looking after his mining interests and brings good reports of the mines.”

1889 is also the year that Ervin’s children begin appearing in Lampasas society, starting with Robert E. Howard’s future mother, Hester Ervin, in that same April 20 paper:

1889 04-20 Lampasas Leader-sm

And again on May 25, this time with sister (Georgia) Alice Ervin:

1889 05-25 Lampasas Leader

The July 6, 1889 edition has more news: “Col. G. W. Ervin left here Thursday on a business trip to North Texas and will go on to Oklahoma before returning.” Several of Ervin’s children by his first wife lived or had lived in the Indian Territory at that time. The July 13 paper announces his return: “Col. Ervin returned Wednesday from Oklahoma and reports the boom in that country as about ‘busted.'”

Later that month, as reported on July 27, 1889, some of Ervin’s grown sons were in town and attended a social with their younger sisters:

1889 07-27 Lampasas Leader

And there are other appearances throughout the year. But business also continued. A Mr. Amos, who is listed as being from Oklahoma City, sold G. W. Ervin more land in Lampasas on December 7, 1889.

A month later—January 16, 1890—G. W. sells a bunch of land for $2,000, “in hand paid by my wife Alice Ervin, the same having been paid out of the separate estate of my said wife received by her from her father.” Said father, Joel Echols Wynn, had died on January 1, 1885, in Arkansas. I’ve got a copy of his will around here somewhere.

That fall, it appears that G. W. had had enough of Lampasas. On October 20, 1890, he sold his original land purchase to a lady from Ohio for the sum of $2,500, to be paid in installments. Here ends the Lampasas paper trail, but I wasn’t quite finished with this mine business. After all, I had to drive through New Mexico to get home.

But before the road trip home, I did a little digging online and found an article in the El Paso Times that had somehow escaped my frequent searches. Dated July 17, 1888, it provided a helpful date for the upcoming courthouse dig:

1888 07-17 GWE in ElPasoTimes p1b

With all of this information in hand, the Roehm party stopped in Lordsburg, New Mexico, on the return trip. We visited the site of Stein’s Pass (now a ghost town called, simply, Steins) and the courthouse, where the following document was discovered.

1888 06-05 GWE in NMa

1888 06-05 GWE in NMb

I have been unable to confirm the “chased by Geronimo” claim.